New type of culture grows unlimited kidney progenitor cells

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published August 29, 2016

Key Takeaways

Scientists have shown how a new 3-D culture method can create and sustain an endless supply of nephron progenitor cells (NPCs), according to research published online August 25, 2016 in Cell Stem Cell.

Current use of standard cultures hasn’t produced sufficient numbers of NPCs or kept them for long in a precursor state, which has held back the research of renal development and diseases, the investigators noted. This new culture medium holds NPCs in their progenitor state, which allows for better disease and drug research and maybe even the creation of transplantable kidneys.

“We provide a proof-of-principle for how to make and maintain unlimited numbers of precursor kidney cells,” said lead author Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, PhD, Professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, CA. “Having a supply of these cells could be a starting point to grow functional organs in the laboratory as well as a way to begin applying cell therapy to kidneys with malfunctioning genes.”

For this study, the researchers discovered that if they used a new mixture of signaling molecules and a three-dimensional culture, rather than a flat dish culture, they could maintain fetal mouse NPCs for more than 15 months. The researchers then tested the 3-D culture using fetal human NPCs as well as NPCs derived from human-induced pluripotent stem cells, and confirmed that they could maintain the human progenitor cells for the long term.

They further demonstrated that cultured NPCs can be developed into nephron organoids that can be transplanted in vivo and perform some basic kidney functions.

“The 3-D culture strategy used in our study can potentially be applied to other lineage progenitors for efficient formation of tissue organoids,” said co-first author Jun Wu, PhD, Research Associate at the Salk Institute.

Building upon such research, the scientists hope to culture the other types of progenitor cells required to grow a full kidney.

“There are several progenitor cells that work together to make a whole organ,” said co-first author Toshikazu Araoka, MD, PhD, Research Associate at the Salk Institute. “If we can culture the other progenitor cells as well, we’ll be closer to building a transplantable kidney.”

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